Foundations of Nutritional Therapy: Digestion Part 2 - The Mouth

In the first post of this series on digestion, we looked at how stress affects our digestion. We uncovered the importance of being calm and relaxed when we eat so our body can focus its energy on properly breaking down, absorbing, and utilizing the nutrients contained in our food. But obviously there’s a lot more going on in the digestive process. Let’s keep moving south from the brain.

Have you ever seen those dudes competing in hotdog eating contests? I just read an article by Gastroenterology and Endoscopy News (riveting…) saying that they suffer extremely painful cramps, nausea, gas, vomiting, heartburn, and diarrhea after each match. Duh. They aren’t chewing. Not at all.

Chewing is more important than most people think.  Mechanically, chewing breaks our food down into smaller pieces for our stomachs to churn. It also gives our saliva time to moisten (sorry to those of you who hate that word) the food so it slides down our esophagus more easily.

The saliva also has a less obvious function that not many people know about. Your saliva contains an enzyme called amylase. Enzymes are little molecules that act as enablers for the various reactions constantly taking place all over our body. The purpose of the salivary amylase is to kickstart the chemical break down of our carbohydrates (veggies, fruits, grains, etc.) into smaller molecules that are easier to absorb into our blood stream.

This kickstarting process doesn’t happen anywhere else in our digestive tract. For us to fully digest and absorb our carbohydrates, we need to chew and properly salivate our food!

What can happen if you don’t chew enough? For starters, you won’t get as many of the important nutrients found in the food that our bodies need to function. The bigger, unchewed pieces of food can cause stomach cramps and nausea. Because your stomach doesn’t have teeth of its own, those big chunks pass into your intestines and can cause leaky gut (an assault on your immune system), more painful cramping, and all sorts of other digestive issues.

These consequences are all easily avoided simply by slowing down, chewing, and enjoying our food. Even when it seems like there’s not enough time and we have to run out the door to our next important appointment, you’ll save yourself a lot of pain later in the day if you chill and chew.

The goal is to make your food lose all texture and almost feel liquid. But to start, try shooting for 30 chews per bite. An easy trick to help you achieve this is to put your fork down after every bite. This will help curb the impulse to mindlessly shovel food into your head.

Go ahead. Try it. Chew each bite 30 times and then leave a thank you comment when your indigestion goes away. And if you see any hotdog eating contestants, send them a link to this post.